Sliding queries from India and strong Australian dollar will lead to up to 10 per cent drop in the number of international university students later next year in Australia, according to a report.

“If the drop in enquires during the last quarter continues then the drop in enrolments in semester two 2010 could be double digit,” enquiries managers Hobsons Asia-Pacific managing director David Harrington was quoted as saying in The Australian.

“Semester one enrolments, which is the largest intake, will be less affected by the recent drop in enquiries due to the 12-month pipeline. This we expect to be flat,” he said.

Mr. Harrington’s company represents 14 universities including three leading research-based Group of Eight universities. His comments follow after their overseas student enquiries fell 15 per cent overall in the latest key quarter, the report said.

They were still tracking down during October and enrolments among highly sought-after full fee-paying postgraduate students would be most affected, a Hobson’s spokesman said.

Indian market “is most price-sensitive, so there are two factors moving against India,” Mr. Harrington said adding that despite all that Australian education remained a very hot option for foreign students.

Meanwhile, there was continuing increased demand for Australian university education, especially from the other key market of China, enquiries from which were up 15 per cent, the report noted.

Earlier, another largest recruiter, IDP, also anticipated drop in Indian students’ enrolments. Chief executive Tony Pollock mentioned that he was worried about enrolment numbers from India being “quite soft.”

“We are looking at modest growth next year across portfolios. Higher education will be up and vocational education will be up, but we will see a lot less students from India,” Mr. Pollock said.

He said the most affected would be all the “single-purpose colleges” which were cashing in on permanent residency-driven student visa. “It will be a very tough period for them because most of their students are drawn from India. It will be a bleak winter for them,” he said.

However, Mr. Pollock said the USD 15 billion education sector was likely to welcome a fall in Indian student numbers, where they were concentrated at the bottom end of the private vocational education market.

“I think it’s a quite sensible re-adjustment of Australia’s education offerings. So what Australia is providing is more closely aligned to the interests of the students themselves and Australian education,” he said.

Apart from this, Access Economics head economist Chris Richardson said there would be little long-term impact on the “remarkably resilient” industry, which would be buffeted by the “short-term headwinds” of the Australian dollar.

Mr. Richardson was responding to comments by Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens that confidence in the Australian economy could drive up the dollar. “I do think it will have an impact, but I don’t think it’s make or break,” Mr. Richardson said.

Increasing middle class population growth overseas meant Australia’s overseas student industry was “on the right side of history,” he said. Overseas families making a decision to fund their child’s education offshore “is not the brave call today it was on the matching day last year at the height of the global downturn”, he said.